What I’ve learned about Polish improv, by going abroad.

It’s been a year since I joined Ohana, an international group of improvisers from all over Europe. We meet three times a year, to work together, to develop, and to build a network  across the Old Continent. In the meantime, I had the pleasure to participate in two international festivals, to perform and learn – BIG IF in Barcelona, and IMPRO Amsterdam.

I opened the gate of my backyard and discovered that the world is very big.

But I don’t exactly want to talk about what I saw on the other side of the gate, but what I saw in my backyard, looking from the other side of the fence. So – how I looked at the Polish improv from the distance and what I’ve learned.

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Most important rule of improv. Ohana.

As you may know, I’m lucky to be in Ohana, the international “Family” of improvisers. During our meetings and workshops I always have with me my Improv Notebook, in which I gather questions and answers about many improv topics. During our week in Slovenia, in september, we were talking about thing like, how to deal with the bad show, about the strangest and most horrible shows, about most common styles of improv in our countries, and much more.

We were also talking about improv rules. There are many, but if you had to choose just one, the most important for you, what would that be? I chose to write about this topic first, because I believe, and I always say, that there is no One And The Only Truth, and One True Improv. If you want to create, and not just re-create, you must search for your own way, and your own sensitivity. And only you decide, what’s most important to you. Of course, all of the below are great improvisers, learning all the time, and developing all of the skills. Take a look, in how many ways you can see basicly the same things.

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Improv practice #3 – How to start

“I will not jump into the water, until I learn to swim,” – said the fool.  / Julian Tuwim

You decided. You want to jump in and do improv FOR REAL. If you feel like it, don’t hesitate, it’s one of the best things you can do for yourself.

Suppose you are at the beginning of your journey – you made a decision, but you still don’t know how to organize the group. Now I’ll tell you what you should focus on, before calling the local comedy clubs. I know that enthusiasm is power, but hold your horses until you answer yourself a few questions. It is better to start a little later, and work together for 10 years, than to go with the flow and drop it after few months.

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Ohana means (improv) family.

I came back from the best improv week of my life. A few days after returning from Slovenia, I’m still thinking about it, and celebrating this fire in my heart. People ask me – what exactly is Ohana? And I think, and see images and feelings, trying to answer in one sentence. And you know what? It’s not that easy.

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Improv practice #2 – Crisis.

Improv is a great adventure. When you commit to it, you get satisfation, fun and developement. You egage with your emotions, in some way you fall in love. Everything is going smoothly, untill… right. Here comes the crisis. You write to me about it with fear. Keep calm. Do you break up after first fight?

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Improv practice #1 – Abuse.

This is the first article of a series IMPROV PRACTICE. It’s a result of my conversations with my improv students. We talk a lot, and they have many questions, doubts, ideas that they want to share. It doesn’t matter if they are improv nerds, or you just joined the class, the questions touch technical aspects, philosophy and art. I’m very glad, that they share them with me. And what I can do in return, is to share my thoughts. It’s not The Truth. It’s my truth, that I’ve been working on, and discovering, and it’s a process – in some time I may tell you something different. Because it evolves. Take whatever you find important. Share what you find important and exciting. There are lots of questions, but yesterday something very important appeared, and I cannot postpone it, so it will be the number one.

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Don’t do what you love.

“My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that was possible for him. So, he made a conservative choice and instead he got a job as an accountant. When I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job. Our family had to do whatever we could to survive. I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which is that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”

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9 types of people coming to improv workshops.

Soon it will be october again. New academic year. Even when you don’t study anymore, autumn has someting… settling in it. Holidays are over, sun is gone (well, in Poland). And we make new resolutions. Like a pre-New-Years-Resolutions. I’ll sign up to a gym. I’ll sign up to improv workshops.

I think, that it’s always a good a decision – but do we all make it for the same reasons? After years of teaching i realised, you can divide most of the people in 9 groups. The list inspired by real people, but still fictional 🙂

1. I watch improv shows, I admire what you do, but I don’t think I could do this.

“I wanted to come a long time ago, but I was to shy. I have my favourite improv games, and I know the groups in my city. Improv is cool. I’m having so much fun watching it. How can you think so quick? I could never do that. But suddenly I got the courage, maybe because my friends took the workshop, so I thought – if normal people can go, maybe I can go?” – This type developes in it’s own time. Sometimes doing very quick and huge progress, when stops critising itself. Paying attention – listening to feedback, worrying about them, but always getting a little better with every step. Always has thoughts about the scenes, sometimes says them out loud.

2. I watch improv shows and I’m 100% sure, I would do it better.

“I know improv, I watch it, it’s cool. I know Whose Line, I know stand up comedy, I write a little myself, I go to open mikes. And what this guy is improvising now on stage – I would do it better. And two scenes ago, with the western, I would say – meet me in high noon. That would be something, right?” – This type comes to workshops with huge confidence. And gets slapped in the face with first scene. He says something – people don’t laugh – he gets confused. He panics, goes into vulgar – sexist – low jokes, and after leaving the stage, he realises there was another person with him. Usually, after the first shock, this type reorganizes his vision of improv, and slowly gets to understand, that it’s not about making jokes. And is some time can play good scenes with partners.

3. I want to be an actor, and I’m looking for theatical workshops.

“I’m preparing for exams to acting school. I’ve played scripted off theatre with Mister Y and Miss X. I want to do more. Maybe improv can be useful in the exams.” – This type is very cute and inspired. Between scenes says Shakespeare quotes, or other literature that he reads before exams. On stage often can move, and sing, and tries to use those skills. In the beginning he’s a bit concerned by the lack of a script, that he could hide behind, but also plays like a child with improv.

4. I’ve heard it’s gonna be funny. I’ll take my friend with me.

“We just had a integration with my sociology group, I had two beers and my friend said he’s going to improv workshop, and it will be funny, because he’s going to improv shows and he knows. I’m definitely not going on stage, but I will laugh at people. And definitely I’m not going alone!” – This type just sits there. Doesn’t want to do warm ups, but has to. Talking to a friend a lot. In the end, isn’t really happy, because thought it would be more like a show. Won’t come back.

5. My friend told me to come, because she didn’t want to come alone.

“I didn’t plan to come, but my friend asked me to go with her. Now she’s talking to me all the time during excercise, and I can’t focus. I’m a little embarraced, but I want to participate. I just played a frog, I din’t know I could do that, it’s fun.” – This type observes, sometimes walk away from the person who dragged her here. From all the people, she might stay in improv for years – like me.

6. If I don’t get up from my desk, I’ll lose my mind.

“I don’t want to perform, but from 8.00 till 17.00 I’m sitting at work, on my computer, and I will go crazy if I don’t do something with people, and try something different. Hey, I see improv workshops at my Technical University, ok, and then I can hang out with guys.” – This type always understands the rules and never breaks them. If he’s not the silent guy, he makes jokes that I don’t understand, but all the IT and math guys are laughing. He’s having fun during workshop, sometimes brings friends to another workshops. Has never done anything connected to theatre, but is improvising well – even when he stand back to the audience, and is talking quitely.

7. I don’t know how to talk to people. I don’t like myself.

“I have no confidence at all. I’m scared of people, but I need to talk to them in my job. I used to be crazy and funny, like you, and then I went to work, time passed… and now I don’t even like myself. I want to be the old me again.” – Those are the words of three people combined into one character. They said it in the first workshops, in front of the group. I have a lot of respect for this type, how much of self-consciousness and being aware of own fears they need to come to improv? This type is very patient, the hardest part was to come for the first time, and then he’s working, doesn’t worry about mistakes, fixes them, goes ahead, developes. This type changes a lot in private life because of improv. I admire him, and I’m happy for him.

8. I’m a leader.

“Feedback, deadlines, coaching, results – I know all of it. I take care of a big organisation, I learn, I can be the president of the world. Can I get a certificate after the workshop?” – This is the business type. Another course, another paper. Searching for innovation, and wants to be a one step ahead of the rivals. During workshops he discover, that he doesn’t always need a plan and try to sell his ideas, to comunicate to other person. Looses his tie and discovers, that sense of humour, honesty and feeling free don’t push him away from business, but bring him closer to Richard Branson.

9. I love Whose Line!

“I know all the seasons, my roommate can’t listen to it anymore, but what can I do, when something reminded me of Wayne singing a song about a bus, I had to see it, and when I did, I had to watch Colin and Ryan talking about Cuba and tapioca. I love Ryan, I want to be like him. I’ll do my best.” – This type has best fun, imitating his idols. He’s best compliment is being compared to Whose Line. He’s trying very hard to be funny, because the program is. It takes a long time for him to understand, that reality is better than youtube. After some time, he becomes himself.


I’m the type 5 – when I was in high school, I saw with my friends a poster in school, telling about theatre workshops. We went there after school, my friends wanted to go to improv – I didn’t, I was to scared, but I went with them. After few weeks, all of them resigned. And I’m still here.

And now you – have a little fun, and tell me, what type are you? Maybe the 10th?

What the audience wants, and should you give it to the.

– Orgasm!

Shouts a drunk guy in the audience during comedy festival in Szczecin.

– Ok, something else? – asks the host.


– Or maybe…

– O R G A S M !

And now the question. Should you give it to the invasive audience member.

At least there is a chance that – as a guy – he will shut up after that for a few minutes. A few years ago, at other festival, (that was the first year of improv festivals in Poland) Canadians said, they envy us. That we have this magical moment in Poland, when we start the improv scene. That we will create it, create how the audience see it, how it will look like for long years. And it all depands on how we bring up, how we educate our audience in our country. Feeling the responsibility yet? Especially, because you’re not only working on your own future, but the next generations ofimprovisers.

And now I may surprise you.

Audience isn’t our masters.

Audience is our kids.

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5 scenes that every improviser has played.

Every year, when I start the workshop season after summer and see new people at te workshops, I can’t help to see the patterns, that we have in our brains. Especially, when it comes to using your body, even in this basic game of Freeze. Of course, when you are just starting your improv adventure, every scene is new and exciting. And in some time you start to dig dipper than your first thought.

So, I can bet, that especially in Freeze played by beginners, you will find those 5 scenes – obviously, everybody needs to play them at least once in a lifetime:

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